St Helena hasn’t reported a single community case of Covid. Photo / 123RF
It’s just 120sq km in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean – and it’s one of the few places in the world that coronavirus hasn’t touched.
The island of St Helena, a British overseas territory, is best-known as the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled – and where he eventually died in 1821.
But it is its Covid-free status that is giving the island of just 4500 people a name today.
Throughout the pandemic, St Helena hasn’t reported a single community case of Covid-19.
No masks need to be worn and no social distancing is required. People are asked to be mindful of personal hygiene – to wash their hands and cough into their elbows.
But apart from the drop in the number of tourists visiting the island, it’s as if the pandemic never happened.
How St Helena remained Covid-freeAll visitors to the island have had to complete 14 days’ quarantine at Bradleys Camp, originally built as temporary accommodation for airport workers. However, in June this year, that was reduced to 10 days’ quarantine.
They also must return a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departure and be tested again on arrival in St Helena. They are then tested again at the end of their quarantine period.
The government has formulated three phases for managing the pandemic – to prevent Covid from reaching the island, to contain its spread should it be detected, and to delay the spread to reduce the number of serious cases. Now, 20 months into the pandemic, they are still in the first phase of the plan.
Volcanic coastline of Sandy Bay on St Helena. Photo / 123RF”We are in the Prevent Stage, and all resources have been deployed to ensure we remain at this stage for as long as possible,” the government website states.
But there have been a few close calls.
In March 2020 there was a suspected case but there were no testing facilities set up at the time. The person had been self-isolating and when a test was eventually made available it came back negative.
In March this year, there was a weak positive case which arrived on a flight but the person, also sent to quarantine, tested negative three days later.
And also in March this year there were several cases on a fishing vessel off the coast.
But while life on the island hasn’t changed much throughout the pandemic, the residents haven’t been complacent.
To date, 97 per cent of St Helena’s adult population has been vaccinated.
Opening back up to the worldWhile visitors still need to quarantine on the island, the advantage for many is they don’t need to quarantine again when they return to their home countries. The UK has listed St Helena at green on its traffic light system throughout the pandemic; the US similarly does not require people to quarantine after returning from the island.
It has led to an increase in inquiries from those wishing to visit the Covid-free paradise.
St Helena head of visitor information services Matthew Joshua is hoping to boost tourist numbers.
“We’re getting an increase in inquiries. It has put St Helena on the map,” he told the BBC.
But that’s where the island has hit another snag.
Before the pandemic, St Helena was served by weekly flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town. But because of Covid restrictions in South Africa, these routes are still on hold.
Instead, visitors to St Helena must fly using charter air company Titan Airways.
A historical and ecological marvelSt Helena was chosen by the British as the place of exile for Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. The previous year, he had been exiled to the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy, but he escaped to France where he raised a new army to battle the British. However, after a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, he was sent to St Helena off the African coast.
He died there in 1821, probably from stomach cancer.
In 1840 his body was removed from the island and returned to Paris where it was interred in the Hotel des Invalides.
Visitors to the island can go to the house where he lived, which is now a museum.
St Helena also boasts more than 500 species of flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world, and tourists can try their hand at diving, deep sea fishing and hiking the volcanic coastal terrain.